I read a lovely blog post. It is about people with disabilities. Please read it.
My comment on this:
I grew up with a learning disability. I was teased, bullied. But I’ve succeeded beyond what any of those people who made fun of me, or even most of the teachers and guidance counselors could. My son has autism spectrum disorder. Family, friends, strangers in the supermarket, all would try to tell me how to handle him, how to raise him, how to “fix” him. He is not “broken”. He never was. He is his own person. He is my son.
Ok. They have a new Pope. Pope Francis.
Here is what CNN said about him:
“Until last year, Bergoglio was the archbishop of Buenos Aires before stepping down because of his age. He is 76.”
So if he was too old to be an archbishop last year, how do you figure that he’s not too old to be Pope now? I guess that is religious logic for you.
What an auspicious beginning of his new reign. Ugh.
In my last post I mentioned how I am out of work.
I had an exchange on FB today with an old friend. I’d shared a post supporting workers’ rights. Her response was:
“They” didnt take anything from u; it’s called a … paycheck! It’s a new day in a brilliantly rebounding economy that bends over backwards to help small business thrive. Go start one! The time is ripe! Hire someone off the burgeoning, I mean, shrinking unemplyment rolls. Be a role model; show the evil capitalist, free market business owner how it’s done. Have u ever written a paycheck for somone else? Do u have any idea what it takes to actually run a business? Sry, the incessant ‘Being Liberal’ whining is … incessant!
I was pretty hurt by this. As I said in my reply to her, I’ve worked hard all my life. I’ve been laid off several times, which has set me back financially each time. My real, effective, take home wages adjusted for cost of living are less now than 20 years. I’ve regularly put in 60+ hour weeks at salary, working hard for raises that never came (not for anyone, not just me), bonuses that were cut, and 401k and stock options that lost money. Not because of quirks of the economy or changing markets, but because of short term strategies by company execs who were trying to maximize their own and their stock holders returns in as short a time as possibly, while ignoring planning for long term growth. Such has been the High Tech, and many other industries of the past 20 years.
What really gets me about this is not that I’ve been forced to start all over again, looking for a job, starting at the bottom at another company, struggling to pay the rent, bills, and buy food and clothes for my kids. This stuff happens. I’ve been though it before, I’ll be ok.
What really bothers me is my friend’s attitude. The idea that I should be grateful for my paycheck (which I am), and not complain when I’m used, overworked, underpaid, and the thrown away. Go start a small business. Sure, let me go get those several thousand dollars I’ve stashed away to start one up. Oh wait. I had to use that to pay my rent and car payments and car insurance, and electric bill, and buy food after the last time I got laid off. And don’t forget those medical bills. You know, the ones on top of the $5,000 in premiums I paid last year. Oh, I got a kid with special needs who requires a $60 co-pay every week when he has to get therapy? Ah well, just be thankful I’ve got health insurance at all. What, the $400 a moth in prescription medication co-pays? No problem. Just write them off on my taxes. Maybe I’ll get an extra $1000 break this year.
I spent time two years ago where I put in 370 hours in overtime in just three months. I got no extra pay. I was never thanked for all the extra work. I didn’t get a raise or a promotion for saving my business group’s ass because of their poor planning and lack proper resources. What I got was a whopping 8 hours of comp time. Not even a atta-boy pat on the back. And that is par for the course for every high-tech company I’ve ever worked for.
So to be told that I should be grateful to my company for giving me a paycheck when they work me like a horse, pay a less than inflation pay raise every year (one company I worked for no one ever got a pay raise for 4 years. Given the rate of inflation, I lost several precent per year in income), makes me angry because it reeks of the “fuck you, you’re on your own; at least I have mine” attitude that has taken over at least 50% of the population. I didn’t build that? Maybe not, but we sure as fuck kept it running and made it work. Me and millions of other workers who did the real work that made the products and kept all the businesses going.
I’m appalled at the assumption that just because I am angry about how unfairly many American workers are being treated, that somehow that means that I think capitalism is evil. That is just knee-jerk, Faux News regurgitated bullshit. I’m all for capitalism, but I’m also for fairness. When a company lays off workers, but the officers of the companies walk away with their millions, and then are hailed in Forbes as paragons of business, that’s not capitalism, that’s unadulterated greed and a misplaced sense of where the real success of a business comes from: it’s workers.
But the real problem with her attitude is not the economical aspect. It is the human aspect. The implication is that I should just be grateful and STFU. This reeks of a sense of privilege and lack of compassion. And what makes it hurt all the more is that I knew her to be a kind, caring, gentle person. But that was a long time ago.
She claims she is a Christian. Well, I was raised a Christian; I spent most of my life as a devout Christian. I remember the stories of Jesus preaching kindness, forgiveness, mercy. I took joy in reading how he urged us to give to those in need. That if someone asks for your shirt, give him your cloak too. If you feed the poor, care for the sick, comfort those who are destitute, it is as if you were doing these things for him.
Where are the examples of these beautiful words? Where are they being put into practice? Certainly not here in America, at least not by the vocal, fundamental Christians who, like my friend, seem to have no problem dismissing those in need and who are struggling and suffering.
I spent years studying the New Testament before abandoning religion. Rarely do I see a self described Christian acting at all in a Christ like way. This is one of the main reasons I gave up on Christianity, and all religions. I saw that just believing didn’t make you better or moral. I’m not perfect, far from it. But I try hard, every day, to ease the suffering of anyone I meet. I work hard to support causes that help people who are in need. I don’t just say, well I have mine, go work for yours. I ask myself what can I do to help them help themselves. What can I give, even if only a kind word or action, to make their day just a little brighter. I put myself in their place and try to understand why they suffer and why they are where they are.
I’m no longer religious, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think some religious thought can’t be useful. There are lessons to be taught in most religions. So, for the Christians out there reading this, please remember what Jesus meant when he said that if you do these things (feeding, clothing, caring) to the least of you, you do them to him. But also remember that the reverse is also true: when you belittle, berate, insult, and cast aside those who are less fortunate than you, you do those things to him. If I learned anything profound from my priests, it was that.
That is empathy. It is compassion. And that is what is lacking in the words and actions of many of the pious, devout Christians that I hear about and know.
I went to my Son’s church today to hear him sing in the choir. They were really quite good. The music was a mix of gospel and soul with some latin rhythms thrown in. Of course, the lyrics were all “praise the Lord”, and “Jesus” repeated ad nauseum.
I could see that people were moved by the music; many singing and swaying to the beat. It was inspiring. Not inspiring in a spiritual way, but in a “isn’t this great that we can all enjoy this together” kind of way. I can understand why people would be moved to feel as if some kind of spirt was among them.
I felt that too, but it wasn’t a spirit of gods or angels or anything like that. It was a spirit of belonging and sharing. I’ve also felt the exact same feeling at rock and pop concerts. When I saw Elton John, the crowd sang and swayed to the soulful lyrics of “Rocket Man” or “Candle in the Wind”. When I saw Simon and Garfunkel, it was “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovey)”. When I saw Paul Simon solo, it was “You Can Call Me Al”; Barry Manilow, “I Write the Songs”; Chicago, “Saturday in the Park”.
These musical experiences were all moving and inspiring because it allowed us, as an audience, as humans, to share common emotions of love, joy, tenderness, and excitement. It is the spirit of togetherness and sharing of emotions that is at play here, not the spirit of the lord or any other supernatural entity. Music unites us and allows us to share our humanness.
The pastor (this was a Protestant service, in contrast to my last church experience) gave a sermon titles “The Dangerous People”. According to him, the people who are truly dangerous, “to themselves and others”, are those who “think they know, but don’t know” (his exact words, not mine). He said that we need to be willing to accept council and instruction from others. He couched this in knowledge of the Bible, using Apollos and Paul from the New Testament as examples.
He said that Apollos was a great preacher and very knowledgeble in the scriptures, but that he only knew of John the Baptist, and since he didn’t know of Jesus, he was somehow dangerous to himself and to others. How Apollos was dangerous he didn’t say. What he did say was that once he was told of the true way of Jesus, he learned from that and started preaching the gospel of Jesus. That, somehow, was supposed to show us how we must listen to wise council and not assume that we know everything.
He never said how we can differentiate good council from bad, truth from falsehood, only that we must be willing to admit that we don’t know everything and to listen to those who know more. He also didn’t tell us who “those” are. I found the message pretty muddled. I suppose that you could take from this that we must be humble and open to new ideas, but I didn’t get the feeling that this was what he really meant. To me, he seemed to emphasize the idea of “dangerous people”, but without ever letting us know how to tell “truth” from falsehood.
One other thing that he said really struck me, because it was so self-contradicting. He said that we have the liberty of praising and doing the will of God. How can you do the will of an all powerful god and still have liberty? This is subjugation disguised as liberty. It is the same as saying that Americans value liberty, but then say that we are not real Americans if we don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, completely missing the fact that by pledging allegiance to anything, be it God or country, we are trading our liberty for servitude to some higher master.
I’ve been learning quite a bit from my forays to church. I’ve learned that there are some wonderful ideas out there about how we can be better people, but they always get watered down by the trappings of religion. Instead of using the example of how we should be humble and admit that we don’t have all the answers in order to think for ourselves so that we can learn and grow, it comes down to just having faith. Well, you can’t have faith and truly think for yourself, because to really think for yourself means to question everything, which faith can not allow.
I find it almost sad to see such potential for real understanding of the human condition and the world we live in lost in a morass of faith, platitudes, and servitude to a “higher power”. This makes us compliant and docile, just like the sheep that the shepherd figure of Jesus requires us to be.
This vile piece of hate came to my attention the other day:
Atheists are not technically human beings (they have no soul) therefore they are not protected by our nations laws and bill of rights.
Now, based on his other tweets, TeaPartyTony is nothing but a hate spewing, racist, misogynistic jerk. I try to avoid these types, but what made this stand out for me was the part about Atheists having no souls.
Given some of Tony’s other tweets, he expects to see atheists burn in hell, but here he says we have no souls, so I guess we can’t go to hell. I doubt Tony sees the conflict between his two statements, but then again, I’m guessing that he probably doesn’t care. In either case, he is putting atheists in a class of people who he considers to be subhuman.
This tactic of declaring those who you dislike as less than human goes back into antiquity. We like to think of ourselves as good people, or at least as adhering to some kind of moral code. To hurt or kill another human goes against most peoples’ moral code, so when they find themselves in conflict with others outside their group they have to find a way to rationalize the hate they feel. They need to make their opponents less than human, less like them. This allows them to resolve the cognitive dissidence that they have to grapple with by treating another person badly.
Religion has a very effective way to dehumanize people. It can claim that the hated group either have no souls, or more commonly, have souls that will be tormented in hell forever. In this way, they become not so much less human, but less worthy of being treated like humans. Using religion to dehumanize someone is even more effective than the usual method of just calling someone inhuman. By claiming that their god has decreed that the hated person(s) are damned, all responsibility for hating, persecuting, hurting, and killing another human begin falls on the god, not his/her/its followers.
It is a very insidious, and very effective, way to justify treating others as less that deserving of the same rights that you have.
Atheists are not technically human beings (they have no soul) therefore they are not protected by our nations laws and bill of rights.
I went to church today because my son was in the choir. I haven’t been to church for a long time, and not a Catholic one for even longer.
Having been raised Catholic, the service itself was familiar enough, even after all these years, that I could ignore it. The sermon, on the other hand, I listened to intently. When I used to go to church, even as a kid, I remember always listening to the sermon. I listened and I thought about what the priest had to say. Today was no different.
He talked about desire. There was some very well thought out and interesting points that he made. He explained how desire run amok can lead to greed and he used the international banking crisis as an example. I couldn’t agree more. Here was a perfect example of greed and how it can affect millions. Here was a very humanistic call for equality and a curb on selfishness and the policies that promote it. He contrasted that to a desire to do what is right for everyone.
This would have been a perfect sermon, but then, of course, he pushed that aside and said that the real positive role of desire is to know and see God. Damn!
This is where myself, and humanists like me, see the great difference between our goals of those of religions. We seek to promote the positive aspects of humanity, like channeling our desires to do good for, not just ourselves, but others as well. While most religions do see this as an important task, it is secondary to a desire to please God. As far as I can see, this is just as selfish as the desire for personal gain. It is replacing the desire for money and possessions with the desire to gain wealth in an afterlife that may not exist, and which certainly does no one here on earth any good
Now, if desiring to gain points in a possible afterlife leads you to do good here on earth, great, but there is still a selfishness to this that I thin can, and does, lead easily to arrogance. Many believers use this thought of reward in heaven to make themselves, in their eyes, better than those who either don’t believe as they do or don’t believe at all. This can easily lead to the extreme of believing, and worse, telling those people that they will burn for eternity in hell. This dehumanizes those who disagree and breeds hate.
Most humanists, on the other hand, believe in doing good for others simply because it is the right thing to do. They expect no reward, no glory, just the satisfaction of doing what’s right and helping others. All without judgment, arrogance, or hate.
I saw a picture of this button on DeviantArt. I liked it, but it got me thinking.
Born again Christians use the term “Born Again” to denote their belief that when they accept Jesus as their personal savior they are “born again” in spirit. This phrase and concept is taken from John 3:1-36,
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. …
To say, as the button above does, that an atheist is born again once they reject theism is not quite the same thing. It is really more of a reversion.
In Islam, converting to Islam is said to be actually reverting because of the Islamic believe that everyone is born a believer in the one true god, but later is lead astray. Of course, this makes the erroneous (in my view) assumption that there is one true god.
An atheist is someone who does not believe in any god/gods, or any supernatural begins like angels, devils, demons, jinns, etc. So to say that you are a “born again” atheist is about as true statement as you can get since none of us are born with a belief in anything, never mind a god or gods. These beliefs are usually learned or taught to us.
That’s not to say that, left to our own devices we wouldn’t create a god or gods on our own to explain the world around us. This is human psychology and is where religions come from in the first place. We have evolved to see agency (a specific animated cause) in everything around us, perhaps from the survival need to see a predator instead of just a bunch of leaves or grass in the bushes. Sure, we could assume that it is just a random pattern, but if it were a lion, we’d be lunchmeat. Those of our ancestors who assumed that something living was there survived to reproduce and pass on this evolutionary trait.
This need to see agency in the things around us also gave rise to giving agency to things unseen as well. When trying to answer what is basically the meaning of life (which we all know is 42, of course), we naturally assigned agency to explain that as well. A rain god must cause the rain. A wind god must cause the wind. Ditto for all of the other things in nature.
Eventually, logic dictated that the gods must all be ruled by a god of superior power, just as we were ruled by a chieftain or king. As time went on, logic again told us that our entire universe must have come from somewhere and that there had to be something even greater than the existing gods. A creator god was born and eventually, this creator god not only ruled over the other gods, but completely did away for the need for them. Everything could be explained as the actions of this one, all powerful god.
As time went by, our inquiry into the workings nature took on the form of ideas followed by testing. This lead to the scientific method which then lead to amazingly accurate explanations and predictions of the workings of the universe. The forces that controlled nature could now be explained without the need for god or gods. This didn’t preclude the actual existence of them, but eliminated the need for them to explain the things that they had always been needed for.
Once we saw that we could explain nature without having to resort to “god did it”, many of use came to the belief that since there is no need for a god, there probably isn’t a god at all.
The need to explain the world we live in is universal. The need to see agency is deeply ingrained in our brains. This need has driven how we explain our world and has shaped the explanations that all the varied cultures have come up with, leading to all the different gods that have ever been postulated to exist. But the agency we are wired to see doesn’t actually exist. It was evolved to protect us, not to explain anything.
While we are born with this need, we are not born with a belief of any kind. Beliefs are shaped by those around us, by social settings. Most of us accept those beliefs because they are reinforced by our inclination to see agency in non-animate things. Even as children, we try to use reason and logic to make sense of the world around us, but reason is often trumped by socially enforced beliefs. It is extremely difficult to shakes these beliefs, but when we let reason and logic guide us, we can finally let go of these beliefs and are “born again” into the state in which we were first born, a state of not knowing. Then our minds are clear, pure, and ready to find the real answers to the meaning of life.
No one’s beliefs are beyond question or criticism. Insisting on special special status for your religious beliefs has nothing to do with your freedom of religion and everything to do with your belief that your religion is somehow better than everyone else’s. You have the freedom to believe what you choose and to live your life accordingly, unless you try to infringe upon the rights of others. You do not have the freedom to insist that everyone else live by your beliefs.
I respect your right to believe as you wish but that respect only goes as far as me not trying to stop you from believing as you do, or insist that you believe as I do. That respect does not include respect for your religion’s ideas, concepts, or particular moral code.
I expect you to question my beliefs and to challenge them. I have no problems or qualms accepting your challenges to my beliefs. I believe that if we don’t constantly question, we stagnate, then we stop learning and stop growing. I question everything, even my own beliefs, constantly. This brings a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me.
You, on the other hand, recoil in dismay when your beliefs are questioned and claim that you are being persecuted and that your right to freedom of religion is being infringed upon. You are wrong. Your beliefs are being questions, challenged, and even ridiculed. Your right to believe them are not being questioned. Your right to practice your beliefs and to worship are not being questioned.
Freedom of religion does not give your the right to insist that every public meeting or event be preceded with a prayer to your god. It does not give you the right to insist that laws be passed to restrict the actions and speech of others not of your faith just because they don’t hold to the same moral beliefs as you. Freedom of religion, as stated in the U.S. Constitution, also implies the freedom to have different religions, or even freedom from religion. It implies freedom of conscience.
The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution was enacted in order to prevent this country becoming a theocracy, as were most countries of Europe at the time, where Kings reigned by the grace of God. The Founding Fathers, in whose memories of the vicious religious wars of scant generations past were still a powerful and terrible memory, created the Establishment Clause to forestall just such terrible religious inspired strife in this country.
Today we see our society polarized by religiously motivated groups on the right who would push their vision of a Christian nation under their particular god upon all of us. Their titular political arm, the Republican party, which once fought against religiously supported slavery, has now become a tool for those who breed hatred against, homosexuals, the poor, women, and the non-christian or non-religious. Their justification? Their religion. Their Bible.
Their belief that their Bible tells them that homosexuality is a sin worthy of death(1) that the poor will always be with us(2) and will be rewarded in heaven(3) and therefore somehow can be ignored here on earth); that women must be silent(4) and submit to their husbands(5). They claim that their god is a god of love and mercy. Their Bible, their words, and their actions show otherwise; that their God is an angry, merciless, and vengeful god and that they are a bigoted, racist, misogynistic people who use their holy book to foist their twisted view of morality on the rest of us.
We all have the right to our own religion, our own beliefs. We all have the right to worship as we wish. We do not have the right, none of us, is to have our beliefs put up on a pedestal that is above question, challenge or even ridicule. What none of us has is the privilege of having our special religious beliefs, modes of worship, and morals elevated above those of anyone else. The freedom of religion granted by the U.S. Constitution implies, above all, equality of all beliefs, where no one belief or religion, especially that of majority, is above any other.
1 Leviticus 18 and 20
2 Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8
3 Matthew 5:3, Luke 6:20
4 1 Corinthians 14:34
5 1 Peter 3:5